Small Batch Blueberry Lavender Jam

By Corinne

Several years ago I traveled to South Africa. While there, one of the wineries I visited had chocolates paired with their wine tastings. One was a rose milk chocolate, another lavender, and the third was a salted dark chocolate. It was the flavours of rose and lavender, flavours that I was much more accustomed to as scents rather than tastes, that I found memorably intriguing. I love to experiment with these floral notes in my cooking, and while it might not be a traditional flavour of jam, I find lavender pairs beautifully with blueberries.

I always make jam in small batches, for three main reasons. Firstly, I would rather have a few jars of several different things rather than 20 jars of the same thing. Additionally, canning in a small batch means you can use less sugar and often skip the packaged pectin. Finally, when you do a small batch its a relatively small investment in time and resources. If you try something new and don’t love it, at least you only have 4 jars rather than 20 and produce, even in season, can be expensive.

I 100% recommend Marisa McClellan and her books on making small batches of jam – Preserving by the Pint and Food in Jars. If you are new to jam making, I can’t possibly do better than to point you towards her instructions for those new to canning.

Culinary lavender can be a bit hard to track down depending on where you live, if you live in Thunder Bay you can find it at the Mystic Garden on Algoma- they have a surprising selection of herbs and spices upstairs.

Time: about 45 minutes

Makes: 5-6 125mL (4fl oz, 1/4 pint) jars – yield will depend a little on the water content of your berries

You will need:

  • 2 lbs of blueberries, rinsed and picked over (remove little stems and unripe berries)
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp culinary lavender (it will be the little flower parts – ensure the lavender you source is ok for use in cooking, many times the stuff used for potpourri has been treated with non food safe pesticides or added fragrance)
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice

Prepare jars and hot water bath for canning. I always prepare one more jar than I think I will need. When you are making small batches of jam you are relying on the natural pectin present in the fruit as well as the large surface area of your cooking pan and the small amount of fruit in order to cook off enough liquid for it to set. This means the yield can sometimes be a bit more or less than you expect. See here if you are new to canning for more detailed instructions for this part.

Put the lavender in either cheese cloth (doubled so the little flower bits don’t escape!) or if you have one of those ‘tea balls’ that will work as well. Mix the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in the pan you are going to cook your jam in. You want a shallow sauce pan rather than a deep pot in order to help with quick evaporation. Allow the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice to sit for about 20 minutes until the sugar has become syrupy. If you prefer a smoother jam, you can use a potato masher to mash up some of the fruit at this point(but don’t mash it all).

When your jars and hot water bath are ready, place the lavender in with your blueberries and start cooking your jam. Over medium high heat, bring the berry/sugar/lavender mixture to a boil. Stir constantly once your jam is boiling. It will foam up a bit at first, but then will settle down.

As it thickens, it might splat and get a little bit messy. Cook for 18-22 minutes. You will know your jam is ready when you draw the spoon through the jam it doesn’t immediately fill in the space and it ‘hisses’. Excuse the oven timer in the following video 🙂

Here  is a description of the plate test, another way to check for set. I usually remove my lavender at about the 15 minute mark to ease stirring and pouring, and my jam is usually done between 18 and 22 minutes.

Remove your jars from the boiling water and quickly fill jars to about half an inch to the top (you can go a little fuller, to 1/4 inch from the top, but don’t do less than half an inch). Place tops and fasten rings fingertip tight. Process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Remove from water and let cool, testing seal after about 12 hours. Store in a cool dry place. Any jars that do not seal (I’ve only rarely had that happen) should be refrigerated and used first.

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Black Bean Dip

By Corinne

Cilantro seems to be one of those things that people like or REALLY dislike. The people who like it always seem to like it a lot. To me, cilantro tastes fresh and almost a bit citrusy. The people who hate it usually describe it as tasting like soap. That all being said, this black bean dip is for sure for the cilantro lovers! The ingredient list is short, and it’s a nice complement to salsa.

Time: 5 minutes

You will need:

  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • a generous handful of cilantro including stems-see photo below for an idea of how much- you could of course use less if that is your preference
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of two limes

Drain and rinse the black beans. Give the cilantro a rinse, but don’t worry about drying it. Add beans, cilantro, 1-2 cloves of garlic, and the juice of two limes to a food processor and pulse until combined. Serve with bread or tortilla chips, or as a yummy spread on a wrap (think the way you might use hummus). This is fine made the day before, but doesn’t keep well for more than a few days because of the mass of cilantro. I used canned beans, which I usually find salty enough, but if you are using dried beans that you’ve rehydrated, you may wish to add salt.

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Cucumber Tomato Salad with Lemon and Dill

By Corinne

This salad comes together quickly and makes a delicious side. If you’re looking to make it a little more hearty, add some crumbled feta- if you do you should omit the salt until after you’ve tasted it with the cheese as feta is quite salty.

Makes: about 4 side servings

Time: less than 10 minutes

You will need:

  • 1 long English cucumber
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large clove of fresh garlic
  • juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped dill (add more if desired)
  • several grinds of fresh black pepper
  • salt to taste (about 1/4 tsp)

Halve the cucumber and thinly slice into half moons and put in a medium sized bowl. Quarter cherry tomatoes and add to cucumbers. Mince or press garlic and add to the cucumber and tomato. Chop dill and add to the vegetables. Add the juice of one fresh lemon and several grinds of fresh pepper and salt. Stir together. This salad can be eaten immediately, but is best if left to sit at least half an hour before serving in order to let the flavours marry.

 

Growing Sprouts

By Corinne

I don’t remember what originally inspired me to grow my own sprouts, but it’s so easy and economical that I’m continually surprised it’s not more popular. Why should  you bother? Well, other than being simple and cheap, it’s also fun, and it seems like it would be a fun thing to do with kids. In terms of effort, its only a few seconds a day, and no matter how many times I’ve done it, I’m still amazed at the changes you see everyday. Once they are ready to eat, sprouts are a yummy addition to salads and wraps, or really anywhere where you might use lettuce.

In terms of nutritional benefits, it seems sprouts may have beneficial enzymes that are part of this early growth. If you do a little googling, there are a lot of claims about just how amazing sprouts are, however, I’m a little skeptical of some of them since few of the sites making these claims back them up with any sort of evidence, references, or studies. That being said,  a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is well established as being beneficial, and sprouts are a fun way to get a little more variation.

There are a few cautions though – it is important to source seeds that are meant for sprouting and raw consumption. Often seeds meant for planting in the garden are treated with fungicides and other things that you don’t want to be eating, or can even potentially be contaminated with salmonella. I order my seeds from Mumm’s, though there are certainly other reputable sites.  My favourite mixes of seeds I’ve tried so far are Spicy Lentil Crunch mix and Crunchy Bean mix.

Equipment

You can buy a special sprouting jar, tray or sprouting bag. But you really don’t need to. If you buy a sprouting jar it will come with a mesh top, but an elastic and piece of cheesecloth work just as well. I use a 1L jar (2 pint), you can use a smaller one, but ensure you reduce the amount of seeds you put in. A wide mouth jar would probably be a good idea, though I generally don’t have too much trouble getting them out of the one I use.

Process

The amount of time it takes to get your sprouts to edible form depends a bit on the type of seeds. Most packages will give you both instructions for sprouting and the number of days it will take to sprout. In general, many are about 5 days, though some seeds take less time, others take more. General directions and helpful hints below.

Step 1. Place 2 tbsp of sprouting seeds into a 1L jar. Cover top of jar with cheesecloth and secure with an elastic. Cover with water and allow to soak overnight or for 6-8 hours.

Step 2. Drain water and refill with cold water, swirling seeds around to rinse and drain again. If there are a lot of seeds stuck to the cheesecloth, just give them a little flick with your finger to knock them down. Sort of roll the seeds around in the jar so they aren’t all clumped up together- as seen in the middle photo below. Lay the jar on an angle and place it out of direct sunlight.

Step 3. Rinse and drain sprouts twice a day for the next 4-6 days, leaving jar at an angle between rinsing.  For the last day of sprouting you may wish to place the jar somewhere it will get sun for a few hours for the sprouts to green up.

Step 4. When your sprouts are ready for eating, take the cheese cloth off and rinse and discard the seed hulls. Depending on your jar, you may find it easier to put sprouts into a large bowl and skim the hulls off the top. You don’t need to worry about getting them all.

Step 5. Allow sprouts to dry for a few minutes on a clean cloth or piece of paper towel. They can be stored in a covered container with a piece of paper towel in the bottom. They are best if eaten sooner rather than later – I often plan to use them the day I know they will be ready, but they can be stored in the fridge for about 3 days.

As you can see in the above photo, 2 tbsp of seeds made a lot of sprouts, about 4 cups as they are really packed into that jar!  I probably could have let them grow for another day, but I wanted to use them in Harissa Chicken Wraps with Hummus.

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The photos above are all of the Spicy Lentil Crunch mix. Below are photos featuring the Crunchy Bean mix.

Avocado Lime Rice

By Corinne

Oh Avocados!

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As the cartoon implies, when you go to buy an avocado, it seems as though they are all either over ripe or hard as rocks. I generally buy them in a bag when the price is right, and of course, they all seem to ripen at exactly the same time, leaving me needing to use up 4-5 avocados in a short amount of time.

This rice is delicious in a wrap, or with Chipotle Pepper Beef.

Time: about 25 min – 5 min prep, 20 minutes cook

Serves: 4 as side

  • 1.5 cups rinsed brown rice
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/4 cup finely minced cilantro
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced or pressed
  • juice of one lime (if your lime isn’t very juicy, feel free to use two)
  • half a minced jalapeño

Cook rice using your preferred method. I generally use a rice cooker, but just follow your usual method.

While rice is cooking, remove skin and seed from avocado. To do this, run a knife lengthwise along the avocado through the fruit around the seed. Twist halves apart, and use your knife to knock out the seed. I generally cross hatch it with my knife and then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, but since you are mashing it you can just take it out in one chunk if you like. Discard skin and seed and place flesh in a bowl. I was going to take photos of this process, but sometimes I don’t feel like re-creating the wheel so to speak. There is a lovely diagram of how to cut an avocado here as well as additional information about them.

Juice lime(s) over avocado. Mince about 1/4 cup fresh cilantro and mince or press clove of garlic. Add to avocado. Use a fork to mash together. Season with a pinch of salt.

When rice is cooked, mix together with mashed avocado mixture. Serve hot.

Creamy Vanilla Whisky

By Corinne

This makes a delightful drink that is creamy without cream, flavoured with vanilla and just a hint of coconut.

After I posted Homemade Irish Cream I had a request for a dairy free version. Now, when making things like this, whether it be gluten free, or dairy free, I don’t want the best part of the recipe to be the absence of the ingredient, but rather I like them to be delicious in their own right. For instance, I prefer the extra chewiness that the chana flour imparts to My Favourite Brownies, so I make them this way whether or not I’m making them for someone who is gluten intolerant.

This one is a little more effort than the Homemade Irish Cream, but if you’re looking for something dairy free, or just something a little different, it’s a win.

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Makes: about 4 1/2 cups or about 1L

Time: about 20 minutes to reduce coconut milk, + cooling time

You will need:

  • 2 cans of full fat coconut milk (2 x 398 mL) or 28oz
  • 2 1/2 cups (20oz) of Wiser’s Vanilla Whisky or other vanilla whisky
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar, but regular will work)
  • 2 tbsp of chocolate syrup
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

In saucepan or pot, pour contents of two cans of coconut milk and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Whisk together and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about 1/3 or 8oz – this took about 20 minutes for me, but will depend on the surface area of your pan, if you are using a pan or pot with larger surface area, it will take less time, if you are using a regular pot, it will take longer. If you skip this step it will result in a rather watery end product.

Once reduced, remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Add 2 1/2 cups vanilla whiskey, 2 tbsp chocolate syrup and 1/4 tsp of almond extract to the cooled coconut milk. Whisk together until blended and pour into a container. Keep refrigerated for at least a month- though it’s probably good for much longer but my bottle ends up mysteriously empty sooner. Shake well after being refrigerated.

Enjoy on the rocks or added to coffee.

 

 

 

Homemade Veggie Bouillon

imageBy: Corinne

This veggie bouillon is my ‘secret’ ingredient, and one of my favourite things. I never buy chicken stock or any of those bouillon cubes. In addition to using it as an addition to soups and stews, risotto and pastas, I also love to rub a few tbsp into a roast before cooking.

It’s versatile and forgiving. I also love that you can control the saltiness of it. Warning though, the less salt you add, the harder it will get in the freezer. I suppose you could make it with no salt at all and freeze it in tbsp portions, though I’ve never tried that.

Inspired by http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/homemade-bouillon-recipe.html. My version uses considerably more veggies and considerably less salt. While initially it might seem like a lot of money on the produce, if you regularly buy chicken stock you very quickly are saving money (and adding flavour!) using this instead.

You Will Need:

  • 2 large bunches flat leaf parsley, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1 large carrot (I used 4 little skinny ones, you want about 1 cup after you’ve processed it) peeled or unpeeled whatever your preferance
  • 3 large leeks, white part only, rinsed if they are gritty
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, skins removed
  • 1 small fennel bulb, or about half a large one, core removed (you want about 1 cup after processing)
  • 1 small/medium celriac, peeled(if you can’t find it, you can substitute 3-4 stalks of celery)
  • 6-8 sundried tomatoes, preferably not the ones in oil, but they will work if that’s all you can find
  • ¾ cup of coarse sea salt

Find yourself a large bowl. Process ingredients one at a time in a food processor. I usually do the tomatoes and the garlic together as they require a little more time. You want everything to be in fine pieces, but not totally pulverized into paste- see in the picture how you can still see bits?

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Sprinkle the salt over the top about ¼ cup at a time, thoroughly mixing between additions.

To use, add 1/2 to 1 tbsp (or more if you like, that’s just what I use) to one cup of hot water to replace one cup of store bought stock. This recipe makes quite a bit, however, it keeps at least a year in the freezer. I also have a few friends who request a portion whenever I make it, so I find myself making it a few times a year.